Q: I am on an F-1 visa studying in the US. What options do I have to obtain a green card in the US?
A: This is a BIG question! Generally, green cards are obtained through employment opportunities, family relationships, or via asylum status. Here is a quick summary of the options:
Family: If you have immediate relatives who are US Citizens or you enter into a genuine marriage with a US Citizen, the US Citizen can sponsor you for permanent residency (a green card.)
Employment: Many F-1 students follow a common path that can — but is not guaranteed to — lead to permanent resident status in the US. First, procure OPT with an employer who is likely to sponsor you for an H1b visa. Your international student advisor can tell you more information on OPT and help you apply. Next, request that the employer sponsor an H-1b visa for you. The main difficulty here is that H-1b visas use a lottery system, so you are not guaranteed to receive the visa. Employers petition for employees in the spring, and employees who “win” the lottery begin working in October. The amount of H-1B visas is capped at 85,000, and last year 233,000 applied. (Note: non-Profit organizations are not subject this cap.) At any stage in the H-1b process, a willing employer can sponsor you for a green card. As you can see, the OPT-H1B-green card process can take time, and has some unknowns, but it is a path many F-1 students follow to eventually obtain a green card.
Asylum: Sometimes, people have a fear of returning to their home country. If this fear meets certain requirements, the person could be eligible for asylum. Asylum can take a long time, but applicants can remain in the US while their asylum applications are pending. If you receive asylum, you can later apply for a green card. An asylum application can be complex. It involves showing that an applicant was harmed or fears harm in the home country based on his or her religion, race, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group. The harm has to be caused by the government, or by someone the government is unwilling or unable to control. If you think you might qualify, you should discuss your situation in detail with an attorney.
Other Options: Some F-1 students are able to win the diversity lottery. There are also other forms of immigration relief such as U visas or T visas for victims of crime or trafficking, that could eventually lead to a green card. You’re doing well to start thinking of your options now. Best of luck to you, and good luck on your end of term exams!